Legislature

Bill sponsor hangs up on cell phone effort, for now

By Vic Vela
Posted

An effort to revive a bill that sought to restrict most uses of cell phones while driving has failed to move forward.

However, the bill will be studied by a special committee over the summer. And the bill sponsor said he intends to introduce the legislation again next year.

The bill would have required drivers to use hands-free cell phone devices and would have put penalties in place in an effort to keep motorists from being distracted by their phones.

Last month, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, failed to receive enough support to clear a House committee. But the committee gave Melton the option to bring back the bill.

Melton intended to present another version of the bill to the same House Transportation and Energy Committee on April 10, but instead decided to push the effort back a year because of procedural barriers.

"Basically, we can't make changes because we've already gone through that piece of the bill," Melton said.

The revived effort occurred too late in the calendar for the bill to be reconsidered for changes to parts of the legislation on which the committee had already ruled.

Melton said that the bill changes sought to address committee members' concerns that caused the effort to fail in the first place.

The original bill would have created a "primary offense" for motorists who use their cell phones while driving through school zones and construction areas, meaning police could have imposed a citation for the mere act of being on the phone. Everywhere else, the violation would have been considered a "secondary offense," meaning drivers could only be cited for talking on their cell phones so long as they were initially stopped for another violation.

Because some committee members questioned whether a primary offense law would have led to enforcement challenges for police, Melton decided to make all violations a secondary offense, a change that he said earned the support of the Colorado State Patrol.

Committee members also wondered whether there was enough teeth in the bill. For that, Melton had intended to set the maximum fines for violations at $100 for the first offense and $200 for the second - doubling the bill's original intent.

But there were other logistical issues to deal with, such as clarifying what types of hands-free devices drivers would be allowed to use and the extent to which they can use phone applications.

"The bill didn't die because people didn't disagree with the policy," Melton said. "It died because people didn't quite agree how we're getting to the solution. I feel like we found the right solution but unfortunately, because of procedure, we can't make the necessary changes."

The bill will get special attention over the summer by the Transportation Legislative Review Committee, which looks at legislation in depth without the deadlines that bills face during a legislative session.

"We have a much better chance of getting a good bill out that has an effect going through the TLRC," said Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, the committee chairman.

Melton said he is looking forward to reviving the effort next year.

"After the bill died, I got a number of emails and phone calls from people all over the state saying, 'Please don't give up on this issue; this is truly about public safety,' " Melton said.